All I really need to know I learned from the Grateful Dead
In 1991, Robert Fulghum wrote a book called “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” which broke down basic ethics into lessons that even a kindergartner could understand. After laying out 16 simple ideas like the first three, “Share everything, play fair and don’t hit people,” Fulghum concludes, “No matter how old you are, when you go out in the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.”
In March, Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow died at the age of 70. Aside from writing Grateful Dead staples such as “Cassidy,” “Music Never Stopped,” “Estimated Prophet,” and “Mexicali Blues,” in 1977 Barlow created a manifesto for good living that he called “25 Principles of Adult Behavior.”
Jerry Garcia was also wont to drop some philosophy. There’s plenty of philosophy in the lyrics that Barlow and Robert Hunter (The lyrical yin to Garcia’s guitar playing yang) planted in the songs of the Dead — think Barlow’s lyrics from “Cassidy”:
“Fare thee well now, let your life proceed by its own design, nothing to tell now let your words be yours, I am done with mine.”
And then there are the lyrics by Hunter from “Comes A Time”:
“Comes a time, when the blind man takes your hand, and says ‘don’t you see?’ Gotta make it somehow on the dreams you still believe, don’t give it up, you got an empty cup that only love can fill, only love can fill.”
One could easily compile a list of many of Barlow’s and Hunter’s inspiring lyrics but this is philosophy laid out by the men themselves, outside their roles as musicians.
Here are Barlow’s 25 Principles of Adult Behavior:
1. Be patient. No matter what.
2. Don’t badmouth: Assign responsibility, not blame. Say nothing of another you wouldn’t say to him in the same language and tone of voice.
3. Never assume the motives of others are, to them, less noble than yours are to you.
4. Expand your sense of the possible.
5. Don’t trouble yourself with matters you truly cannot change.
6. Expect no more of anyone than you can deliver yourself.
7. Tolerate ambiguity.
8. Laugh at yourself frequently.
9. Concern yourself with what is right rather than who is right.
10. Never forget that, no matter how certain, you might be wrong.
11. Give up blood sports.
12. Remember that your life belongs to others as well. Don’t risk it frivolously.
13. Never lie to anyone for any reason. (Lies of omission are sometimes exempt.)
14. Learn the needs of those around you and respect them.
15. Avoid the pursuit of happiness. Seek to define your mission and pursue that.
16. Reduce your use of the first personal pronoun.
17. Praise at least as often as you disparage.
18. Admit your errors freely and soon.
19. Become less suspicious of joy.
20. Understand humility.
21.Remember that love forgives everything.
22. Foster dignity.
23. Live memorably.
24. Love yourself.
You can take that to the bank, and they’ll give you a lifetime interest-free loan on the truth.
Here are some gems from Garcia:
“You need music, I don’t know why. It’s probably one of those Joe Campbell questions, why we need ritual. We need magic, and bliss, and power, myth, and celebration and religion in our lives, and music is a good way to encapsulate a lot of it.”
“What we’re thinking about is a peaceful planet. We’re not thinking about anything else. We’re not thinking about any kind of power. We’re not thinking about any kind of struggles. We’re not thinking about revolution or war or any of that. That’s not what we want. Nobody wants to get hurt. Nobody wants to hurt anybody. We would all like to be able to live an uncluttered life, a simple life, a good life, and think about moving the whole human race ahead a step, or a few steps.”
“Constantly choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil.”
“Magic is what we want; music is how we do it.”
“You do not merely want to be considered just the best of the best. You want to be considered the only one who does what you do.”
“Run faster, jump higher, reach farther, and you’ll always win! Live life expecting the worst, hoping for the best, and living for the future! Somebody has to do something, and it’s just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us.”
“If we had any nerve at all, if we had any real balls as a society, or whatever you need, whatever quality you need, real character, we would make an effort to really address the wrongs in this society, righteously.”
“The whole thing is remembering this is who we are. Remember who we are? We are in reality a group of misfits, crazy people, who have voluntarily come together to work this stuff out and do the best we can and try to be as fair as we possibly can with each other, and just struggle through life.”
“What’s been great about the human race gives you a sense of how great you might get, how far you can reach.”
“I don’t think there’s a good excuse for being unhappy.”
There you have it. Now go live it. You can call it: “All I really need to know I learned from the Grateful Dead.”